​“When a homeless person dies” – Lessons learned from Many Meals, Week 471 on January 24, 2018

The death of a homeless person is a different kind of story than the death of someone with next of kin to claim the body and bring it to an appropriate conclusion. There are some cases where a family member steps up to that task and reimburses the County for services given, such as cremation. In other cases, they go unclaimed and are cremated, generally buried together in a common grave.

On Saturday, January 27, 2018, people will gather in Plaza Park in Downtown Ventura to honor 55 homeless people who died in Ventura alone during 2017.  It is the 12th Annual Memorial for reflection, inspiration music and refreshments.  The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura has taken the lead in this worthy endeavor. For more information, call 818.281.6249, or http://www.liftupyourvoice.org.

There were five deaths of homeless people that I know of in Santa Paula in 2017.  It’s not a good ending for them, and it’s not the way to end homelessness. These people died from untreated illnesses and undiagnosed ailments. Some due to violence and another due to improper living conditions after hospital discharge. Homeless friends always want to gather and have someone say something.  They will always find something good to say. Always.

In a different circumstance, and equally sad, is when a homeless person hears of the death of a family member while in jail or sometime after the event. When they are in jail, the Chaplain will make notification after they have confirmed the death with the Medical Examiner.

In one case this week, I saw the depths of grief the likes of which are hard to imagine or describe. To protect my friend, I will say “Chris” which could be male or female and refer to Chris as “they/them”.

Chris has been on the streets of Santa Paula for many years, more than 10. Chris called me on Sunday to take them to the ER for an eye injury. I knew that Chris’ mother had died in a local rest home and the funeral was the next day. Chris knew they had to be at the service but they were sick, injured, and filthy and it would be hard to get cleaned up and sober for the memorial.

I called a family member to let them know Chris was at the hospital and they said they would pick them up and take them home. It would be better to start the preparation process the night before. The next day at the service Chris was not there and nowhere to be found. Chris came to the drop-in center crying, mad and lamenting the missed funeral. In doing so, Chris was punching their face and lying on the table.  There are years of guilt from stealing, lying and making messes layered on that table and no way to say “I’m sorry”.

Today, the Fire Department was called to Chris’ location but Chris would not agree to be transported to the hospital. Captain Arana called me and said Chris wanted me to take responsibility for that. By the time I arrived, Chris had disappeared. Even now, Chris is not at the usual places. I fear what I will find one day soon.

Prolonged substance abuse harms the body, the brain and the soul. We see it on our streets every day. Los Angeles has 58,000 homeless people. That equates to more people than the combined communities of Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru.  Impossible to imagine managing that problem.  Like I’ve said before, when they are ready to live the life God designed for them, we will be here with all resources, support and good will.

Next week:  “When the neighborhood gets cranky”.

Mental Health Moment:  Each week, Dr. Jason Miller, a Psychologist at the Behavior Health Clinic here in Santa Paula, gives us tips on how to deal with problems facing our homeless population and ways to handle difficult encounters with others. He talked about what to do when someone is having a seizure. Several of our homeless people are subject to that.  The best thing to do is to try and break the fall so they don’t hit their head on a hard object. Turn them on the side, speaking words of comfort, like, “Help is on the way, I will stay with you, you will be okay.” Try to clean their airway if they are choking. They may often vomit, and it is important your face is away from them. Don’t put you hand in their mouth and put something between their teeth like a soft wallet. Not a pencil or your finger for sure. The seizure could last for ten minutes or more. Have someone call 911 and let the first responders take over when they arrive.

Food Rescue:  We learned that Ventura County has made the final cut for a grant to pursue “Waste Free Ventura County” saving food from the landfills. More on that in a few days.

Shower hours are being changed from 10 am to 1 pm on Friday so the mobile clinic stationed at the hospital can meet with the homeless who take advantage of a weekly, hot shower, clean towels, hygiene items, new underwear and socks. Jill Wallerstedt, John Flores, Melinda White and a helper are managing that event. County staff is amazing.

Next time you buy some, will you buy an extra pair or two for us. While only please. They need to know when it’s time to wash them.

If you are interested in donating to a fund for money to wash clothes, let me know. SPIRIT of Santa Paula, Post Office Box 728, Santa Paula CA 93061-0728. When you buy from Amazon, please go to www.smileamazon.com and select SPIRIT of Santa Paula as your charity of choice to receive a percentage of all your spending.

Thank you notes are going out this week to those who have supported the work on behalf of our neighbors in the margins.

Menu tomorrow is pulled-pork casserole with taco flavored humus sauce, fresh buttered cooked carrots from Garman’s Pub, rice from El Pescador, romaine salad with fresh tomatoes, orange slices, rolls and butter. We have five trays of pork not served at the school district cafeterias. Such a money saver and wise use of excellent food and protein.

Kay Wilson-Bolton, Volunteer Director

SPIRIT of Santa Paula

a 501C3 Corporation founded in 2002
Serving the Least Powerful and Most Vulnerable in our Community


​“Just as we remember her” – Week 470 at Many Meals January 17, 2018

I prepared you for Carol to pass away and she did last Friday around midnight. It was expected but still bitter in many ways. She didn’t have to die at the age of 49.  If only she had taken care of herself and allowed the system to operate. She was very fortunate to have received significant attention from people who know how to make things happen. But, if you don’t know what addiction feels like and how it controls your brain and motivates your behavior, you can’t know how hard it is to do the work of sobriety.

Her girls are very smart, talented and educated. They live their lives in the sunlight and have brought pride to our community and​  to the woman who raised them and to their mother. They organized a memorial for her at the Park on Sunday afternoon. It was the perfect setting but I felt like I was in the wrong place.

They chose a picture of Carol at the age of about 20 years old. She very beautiful, still innocent and unscathed by the ravages that would come.  They spoke sweet words about her life and challenges and struggles. Some of her friends spoke about her as though she lived a charmed life. Some came to the service who had stolen from her, sold her drugs and shut the door when she needed lodging, food and clothes.

I thought I was at the wrong service and felt the deepest pain. I realized the picture on her memorial folder and the sweet words spoken by daughters were of memories of the mother they want to remember. I will give them that. I left quietly with no words to speak until now.

Latino Town Hall and LULAC are working hard together to provide for the 11 families who were displaced at Limoneira Ranch. Thanks to Tresierras Supermarket, we received a generous year end gift and we shared it with Latino Town Hall, trustworthy colleagues who are doing such good work. Thank you to Art Tresierras for the vision and the gift.

The wonderful Jill Wallerstedt helped me complete a grant for a share of the Community Development Block Grant Funds being given to the County to benefit the homeless population. One of our grant requests is to fund the placement of four porta potties and trash bins in strategic locations to help with the obvious. Some would say the City of Santa Paula should do this, but I say “someone” should do it. We’ll see if we get funding.

The date that works for all for the formal launch event for the Care Pod in Santa Paula is Friday February 23 at 10:30 a.m.  I invite all of you to witness this innovate and very important piece of the Whole Person Care Program. I want you to meet the wonderful professionals who bring this to our community in our efforts to end, (that is END) homelessness in Santa Paula.

Our meal tomorrow is Shepherd’s Pie with mashed potatoes and gravy, marinated cucumbers, cooked butter carrots (thank you Garman’s Pub), rolls and butter and fresh tangerines. This is often the most nutritious meal of the week for many.

Thank you to all who help us with our work. We have a goal and a mission behind all of it. The motivation is to “love our neighbor.” They may not live next door, but they are in the neighborhood.

Kay Wilson-Bolton, Volunteer Director

SPIRIT of Santa Paula

a 501C3 Corporation founded in 2002
Serving the Least Powerful and Most Vulnerable in our Community

Homeless for the Holidays at Many Meals Week 467 on December 27, 2017

This has been a month to remember with the Thomas Fire causing such fear and bringing such disaster.  Despite the impact of the winds, the terrible air quality and learning why breathing in that toxic cocktail of particles is so dangerous, the homeless population felt little impact. They were glued to the television and caught up in the reporting, but for the air quality, they lived their lives as usual.

Two reported to me recently that “we” have to serve them because I am rich and retired, and the government pays the volunteers to serve them.  Fortunately, all the others who benefit from our work and very grateful and appreciate the hot meals and now particularly the hot showers. The Welcome Center was open Christmas Day and we were able to share food and water with a number of them.

The soft launch of the Care Pods was last Friday under the eyes of County Health Care professionals and a few volunteers who welcomed those who received the first showers and registered them into the Homeless Management Information System.

Jill Wallerstedt, John Lopez and Laura Hernandez led the volunteer side. While I was disappointed only eight people took advantage of the showers and opportunities to see a nurse, the word was spread this week and I anticipate double the number this Friday. Those who enjoyed the showers commented on how good it felt and how organized it was. One is a single woman who is homeless and picks lemons for a living.

Pastor Paul Rovere from the El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church has been very welcoming and accommodating. We appreciate him and his congregation very much.

Nine families were adopted this year for gifts. It was a nice way to get to know how they live their lives. SPIRIT Vice President Lupe Servin organized Toys for Tots again this year. It was disappointing again to see some families reject many of the toys as not “good enough” or expensive enough. We are going to rethink our role in this very labor intensive task for next year. Toys for Tots is a wonderful project but as the “tots” get older, their tastes become more mature as well. The pressure on parents is not funny and hard to watch.

January 2018 starts year 10 for Many Meals. Little did we know where that first meal on January 14, 2009 would take us. We applaud the Many Meals project in Camarillo who followed us for still going strong and staying the course.

Food Share was closed today and I felt the pang of fear in providing affordably for our 600 meals tomorrow. We keep a rotating supply of food so we will be okay for this week. Thanks as always to Garman’s Pub for the fresh vegetables and El Pescador always willing to provide their wonderful Spanish rice.

We learned that Elevate Church in Newhall is discontinuing their fresh produce distributing at the Boys and Girls Club the third Saturday of each month. We thought to continue it but it would require renting a refrigerated truck, picking the up the vegetables in Pacoima on Friday afternoon and holding it for distribution until the next day. Not an easy task. Their decision to stop the activity is based on the diminished number attending on distribution day. We thank them for caring about our community.

Tomorrow’s meal will be our popular Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Spanish rice, fresh cooked carrots and chips. Hopefully someone will find some oranges so we can have a fresh orange quarter on the plate.

Thank you to those who support our work, like our stories and encourage us along the way by good words and/or financial support. If you are able to provide a donation before year’s end, please remember we are a 501C3 non-profit corporation and can provide a receipt for your tax deductible donation.   SPIRIT of Santa Paula, Post Office Box 728, Santa Paula CA 93061-0728.  If anyone out there is a grant writer, would you kindly let me know if you are able to help?